International Navigation Company

International Navigation Company

The International Navigation Company (INC) was a Philadelphia based holding company owning 26 ships totaling 181,000 tons and carried more passengers than either Cunard or White Star, when the company was reorganized as International Mercantile Marine in 1902. INC was formed in 1871 with the backing of the Pennsylvania Railroad to operate foreign flagged vessels on transatlantic routes to Philadelphia. Clement Griscom, the company’s general manager, entered into an agreement with the Belgian Government to establish the Red Star Line to operate a mail service out of Antwerp to Philadelphia and New York. This subsidiary would provide most of the company’s profits for the next 30 years.

In 1873, Griscom also took over the management of the American Steamship Company, a Philadelphia based passenger and cargo service to Liverpool that was also backed by the Pennsylvania Railroad. This company, known as the American “Keystone” Line was unprofitable because of the substantially higher costs associated with operating American-flagged vessels. In 1884, the assets of the American Line were acquired by International Navigation. Two years later, INC also acquired the assets of the financially troubled Inman Line, operator of a British flagged Liverpool-New York mail service. With PRR’s backing, Griscom ordered two record breakers to restore Inman’s fortunes. However, the British Government objected to Inman’s ownership change and revoked Imman’s mail contract. Griscom successfully lobbied Congress to reflag the two new express liners and qualify for an American mail subsidy. In 1893, Inman was merged the American Line and the company built two additional express liners in the US to create a premium weekly service, now routed to Southampton.

Griscom believed that the major lines should be merged to control capacity and avoid rate wars. In 1899, he became acquainted with J. P. Morgan, an investment banker who was responsible for many of the large mergers during the period. With financing from Morgan’s syndicate, in 1902 Griscom and Morgan expanded International Navigation by acquiring the Atlantic Transport Line, the Leyland Line, the White Star Line, the Dominion Line and half of Holland America. International Navigation was renamed International Mercantile Marine (IMM).

However, Griscom and Morgan paid too high a price for the companies they acquired and IMM struggled under the debt payments. Management was reorganized to focus on White Star, the most profitable subsidiary. In 1915, IMM was forced into bankruptcy when the war disrupted cash flow, but later was able to profit from the wartime demand for shipping. In the 1920s and 1930s, IMM gradually sold off its foreign subsidiaries. In 1931, it acquired the United States Lines, and merged all operations under that name in 1943. The company failed in 1986 and was liquidated when it over expanded in the cargo container business.

Read more about International Navigation Company:  1871–84, 1884–93, 1893–1902, Postscript

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